Story at a glance

  • Professor B. Don Russell discovered that his technology, the Distribution Fault Anticipation device, can alert utility companies to power line issues.
  • Faulty power lines have caused multiple catastrophic fires in California over the past few years.
  • Electrical companies such as PG&E are currently testing the Distribution Fault Anticipation products as a new way to prevent fires before they start.

Technology developed by electrical engineers at Texas A&M University could be the next innovation in fire prevention. B. Don Russell, an engineering professor at the university, first set out to create a tool that could detect problems in power lines prior to blackouts to prevent outages, but soon realized it could be used to prevent some of the rampant wildfires that have ravaged California, according to a report in SFGate

Russell has begun calling it Distribution Fault Anticipation, and it is currently being tested by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in California. The embattled utility company has been found liable for multiple wildfires due to faulty equipment, which ultimately led to its bankruptcy. Competitor Southern California Edison, which has also been found responsible for some of the devastating wildfires, is looking into Russell’s creation as a potential solution as well. 

Outlets report that the Distribution Fault Anticipation tool runs on algorithms to find discrepancies or disruptions within power lines and alert the end user, per The Eagle. It uses computer hardware to monitor the electrical current patterns and flags abnormalities in circuits. The device can predict a variety of problems in very early stages, even years before, reports say. If detected early enough, the company can investigate the issue or even shut power off before a disaster like a wildfire occurs. 

So far, testing has shown things like fallen tree branches, failing capacitors and failed connections. Estimates show that a full implementation of Distribution Fault Applications could run about $22 million, which pales in comparison to the $20 billion settlement PG&E shelled out in 2017 and 2018. While the device isn’t a “silver bullet,” it could be a major step toward detecting accidents before they occur. 

Published on Dec 03, 2019